Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 39, No. 3, 420–437, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This paper examines school–university partnership and formative feedback within student-teacher field experience.
The authors examine the qualities of a three-way dialogue about student-teacher progress, and the issues that militate against feedback being used to maximise professional development.
The participants were university tutors, seven student-teachers and their supporter teachers.
The student-teachers are placed for 12 weeks in a class at some age stage between Primary 4 (age seven to eight) and the final class, Primary 7 (age 11–12), in a single school in Scotland and have day-to-day supervision and support from the class teacher. In addition, every student receives a visit from each of a pair of university tutors, who observe and assess a lesson.
Data were collected through interviews with these three partners to evaluate how they engaged in formative feedback.
The findings reveal that the tutors saw four crucial aspects to the feedback processes.
Firstly, the students were very anxious to see familiar faces when tutors visited and thus establishing the relationship before placement commenced was critical. They valued personal contact, even if virtual, so that they could get a feel for the tutor personalities and expectations and for the tutors to get a feel for them.
Secondly, the dialogue between tutors and supporter teachers needs to be considerably enhanced, especially so that, together, they can enhance the learning journey for students.
Thirdly, all of the participants commented on how the three-way dialogue enhanced communication, making it more open and transparent, and gave opportunities for sharing ideas and working towards a shared understanding of field experience requirements and the students’ learning.
Finally the communication between university and school, between tutor and teacher, needs to be more open, reciprocal and less formal in style.
The findings indicate that students comment that more feedback from a diverse range of professionals is better than concentrated or dedicated feedback from one or two colleagues. But they also comment about variability in timing and nature of tutor visits and in-school factors such as size of school, number of non-class-committed promoted staff, culture of support, presence of other students, challenging nature of the class and assistance of visiting specialists.
Students could also see the benefits of building common understandings between tutors and teachers. Many students see the virtues of additional support and feedback in helping their professional learning, but others focus more on the clues to achieving high marks.
Supporter teacher highlights
Previously the tutors had undertaken a formative and a summative visit and supporter teachers had the major role in the interim. Teachers had had no intimation that the previous pattern was found wanting and had few expectations of the additional visit.
While the teachers were positive about tutor support, some signalled that, typically, more of the feedback that students receive comes from them and it is their professional expertise on which the university relies. If tutors (and campus learning) are to become more integral to the feedback and support for students, it is quite obvious that they have to be more ‘familiar’ members of each school team and more regular visitors.
In summery, the authors suggest that there has to be more consideration given to how a supporter teacher can best help a student-teacher deal with the theory/practice issue. That would require a new approach to choosing supporter teachers; not just those who happened to be teaching the class that the head teacher decided should have a student on placement.
This small study of additional support for students on field experience indicated that the positive outcomes were that the additional visit was a welcome, learning experience for almost every student-teacher and supporter teacher. This visit gave a greater focus to the whole feedback process, encouraging the student to consider the learning goals of placement more clearly. And, particularly from the tutor point of view, this more intensive contact with the partner schools helped by giving an even greater incentive to the tutors to have a secure professional relationship with each other and thus with the schools.
There are two further issues, arising from our findings, which require to be more fully addressed if university tutors are to continue to play an important role in giving field experience feedback to student-teachers.
Firstly, the authors need to emphasize the feedback aspects of every visit and their importance in building a set of professional skills that the student can sustain and build on into full career. Students therefore need help in seeing even the summative dimension of feedback as a signpost to their future professional development, rather than an end point in itself, signified by the artificial construct of the university grading system.
Secondly, they need to smooth out the pattern of visits so that they occur more evenly across the placement and students and teachers can thus make best use of visit feedback rather than sometimes receiving visits too late to act on advice.